In the previous episode, we were quiet in El Salvador where we were supposed to stay for another week when we heard about the Fuego Volcano in Guatemala, on the verge of eruption. Neither one nor two, we gathered our things and left ASAP in Guatemala, precisely in Antigua.
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
How to get there? Concepcion de Ataco – Antigua
We simply went through gekkotrailsexplorer.com. Given the urgent departure, I contacted them via Whatsapp at 9:30 am, everything was settled in an hour: the deposit via PayPal, appointment taken at 1:30 pm to take a private car to a gas station near Sonsonate – then a shuttle to pick us up. Good, the shuttle was 2 hours late and we had to wait with a polar air conditioning in the gas station, but we could arrive in Antigua the same day (around 8 pm). 35$/person in all (more info here)
Day 1 in Antigua
We are dropped off in front of our hotel, a hotel that JB has chosen by the piff. The room is terribly badly (not at all in fact) insulated, we hear all our neighbors and we have super cold. Around midnight, we decide to go up to the terrace. And there, in the almost total darkness, hardly arrived, we see in the distance a summit of volcano, full of lava. It looks like a torch piercing the dark night, then the lava flows on the sides, and this red color fades after 20 seconds. We wait another 5, 10, 15 minutes…. but the clouds hide us the view. We are too lucky to arrive at the right time, because from this terrace, there is only one place where we can see the volcano, and if it was not erupting, we wouldn’t have known which way to look.
What an incredible show! If you looked at the Lord of the Rings, the vision we had was partly like Mordor.
Now you’re going to ask me the question:
Why go see an erupting volcano? Why not flee?
The Fuego volcano is permanently active. That is to say that there are always, about every 15 minutes, releases of ash, smoke and sometimes lava.
But since 2 days, the activity of the volcano is more intense – and instead of only ash and smoke, we see more lava. And at night, it can be seen from far away, from Antigua. Well, our pictures aren’t great, so we show you a picture of a professional photographer here :
From a distance it is difficult to know if the volcano is more active or not – because people are used to it and do not spend their day observing it. But villages at the foot of the volcano have noticed abnormal tremors, a sign that the volcano is becoming more active.
Last year, the volcano suddenly erupted, killing more than 500 people in a matter of minutes – and rescue workers were unable to evacuate everyone in time. There was a big scandal that they rescued the tourists first, and left the villagers to die.
This magnificent hotel at the foot of the volcano, is now only a ruin
Being in Antigua (about 30 km away as the crow flies), you can see the volcano from afar, but the risk is less.
There are towers that allow to get close to the volcano, thus climbing on the nearest volcano ( Acatenango volcano). It is a difficult trek (5km and 1400m of vertical drop) especially for us who are washed out of our many trips. But while approaching, we can see something like this (long exposure)
So, with our current state of health (I’m on antibiotics and quite weak, and JB is very tired), we came to Antigua to watch the Fuego volcano from afar, day or night – choosing the best hotels & Airbnb with a view on this volcano, this is our program.
Day 2 in Antigua
After a very bad night, we decide to change hotel. Direction Chez Daniel (Booking link), and as its name indicates, it is a hotel run by a Franco-Guatemalan couple. We are entitled to a room upstairs, with an incredible view on the 3 volcanoes: Volcano de Agua (inactive, but which dominates all the city), Volcano Fuego (the one which interests us) and the volcano Acatenango.
After a well deserved massage: for a top massage, call or whatsappez +50254608474, the masseuse is really top, she can come to the hotel, or offer a massage in a massage room right next to Daniel’s for Q290/hour. I recommend to drop by the massage center because the delivery of the massage bed is a bit complicated.
…we rest and wait for the sunset to enjoy the show. Here is our professional studio to film in time lapse ahahah
The lights are incredible and from time to time, the volcano lets out a strong smoke.
We also see lava. It’s beautiful. Depending on the intensity of the eruption, you can see the lava for a long time (Mordor effect), or it flows on the sides and becomes an extraordinary spectacle.
Until late at night, as soon as I go out on the terrace, I see a lava flow… every 20 seconds or so, of varying intensity. From here, we can hardly hear anything, it doesn’t shake either, so we have to be on the lookout all the time.
Unfortunately, my camera isn’t powerful enough to take a picture of it – plus big clouds came to hide the view. But seeing this volcano in mini-eruption every 20 seconds is one of the best experiences of our world tours.
Day 3 in Antigua: an extraordinary meeting
We start the day and have the surprise to enjoy a French breakfast (divine croissants, homemade bread, French butter, hot chocolate, homemade jams) with some fruits. It’s too much good! We finally meet the owner Daniel (French), who has been living in Guatemala for 45 years; and his wife Mariel (Guatemalan) who speaks perfect French.
One thing led to another, we learn that not only is there a French alliance in Antigua (of which she is part of the committee), but she also helps French families of children adopted in Guatemala to find their Guatemalan biological mothers. Her success rate is almost 100%, and in the last 12 years she has managed to find about 30 biological mothers. She travels all over Guatemala to find them and serves as a translator but also as a psychologist so that the reunions take place in the best possible conditions. The encounters always go very well and are, of course, very moving.
In general, French families contact her in advance (6 to 9 months before their trip to Guatemala), which gives her time to find the mother and prepare her psychologically to see her child again. In the course of her research, she was also able to compile a list of mothers wishing to see her child again. However, the law is such that only adopted children can begin the search for their mothers, and not the other way around.
Adoption records for Guatemalan children are quite complete: there is the mother’s name and ID card number. The difficulty isn’t only to find her, but also to inform her as discreetly as possible – that her child wishes to see her – without creating an upheaval in her current life. Especially since her husband and children aren’t necessarily aware of this past. In general, it is very rare for Guatemalans to abandon their children except in serious circumstances (Guatemalans are very religious). And most of the time, the new family of the biological mothers accepts the news, usually with great joy. The most important thing for these biological mothers is to know that their children are alive, which isn’t the case for all abandoned children.
If you too are looking for your Guatemalan biological mother, or know someone in this case, you can contact Mariel Helena, write to her at dvmariel @ gmail.com
After this long discussion with Mariel, we understood why we had to come here: not for the volcano, but to get to know people with big hearts like her. What a wonderful meeting!
Unfortunately, it’s already time for us to change accommodation (again!). JB had reserved another Airbnb, before our arrival here, more adapted to our life of nomads.
That’s how we take an Uber to get there. The paved streets in Antigua make traffic very difficult and slow. Rolling our suitcase even if only 100m on a paved street makes us regret having swapped our backpacks for two suitcases 😀 The race in Uber costs about 2€ for 11 minutes, but it’s the normal price here.
Our Airbnb is really beautiful, in a residence with janitor, with many tables to work. The connection is correct (about 5Mbps down). And I can see the Fuego volcano from my bed!!! In the evening, when the sky is clear, I see “Mordor” from far away and its lava. What a show!
I forgot to take pictures of the inside of the Airbnb so here is the ad in question. If this is the 1st time you use Airbnb, click here to get a 25€ discount
Lauriane, learning that we are in Antigua, strongly recommends that we spend an afternoon in Hobbitenango. The name is so cute! It is the Guatemalan version of Hobbiton, which we visited in New Zealand. In less good, certainly, but with an incredible view.
To get there, go to Hobbitenango Oficina. You can buy a ticket for transport and entrance (50Gt for entrance, 25Gt for return transport). This is the option we recommend because if you go there by Uber or cab, you will be left at the parking lot and will have to climb to the top, while with the official shuttle you will be taken to the entrance. Be careful to take a jacket or down jacket, it is colder at higher altitudes and really chilly once the sun goes down. Concerning the food, the saleswoman only spoke to us about an overpriced buffet but know that on the spot, there are plenty of more economical options.
We have a 180° view on the surroundings, it’s all green and beautiful. The cities are very small compared to the size of the volcanoes. I strongly recommend you to come if you have the opportunity. There are many activities included in the ticket. Servers go from one hobbit hole to another to take and deliver orders. You can lie on the grass, on the hammocks or sit on many chairs. We even ran into a Canadian family who, upon learning of the existence of this place, changed their schedule to spend a day here:D
In addition, the “hobbit” style huts aren’t bad at all and contrary to Hobbiton, you can go inside.
At 6 pm, we take the shuttle to go down. It is at this moment when we begin to see lava. It will be the last day when the sky is clear enough to see the lava from far.
Days 3, 4 & 5
The remaining days are dedicated to work. We hardly have time to go downtown to eat, always at the same restaurant in addition: Bambu, where they serve a very very correct Vietnamese soup (Pho).
I am ashamed but apart from the international restaurants, we absolutely did not test Guatemalan food:( And we did not have the strength to visit the many churches in the city either. It will only be a postponement. We’ve been traveling at an intense pace since we left Medellin in mid-October and with work on the side, we’re getting really tired. Can’t wait for the Christmas vacations!
Here too, as in Granada, there is a chocolate museum. Less pretty on the other hand, but very crowded. It makes me a little sad to see so many tourists here, while Granada in Nicaragua looks a lot like Antigua, but empty. We tasted for the first time 100% cocoa chocolate. It’s… special!
In Antigua, there are hotels and inns too nice. The outside is plain (you can only guess the colonial architecture) but inside there are always lush gardens, incredibly photogenic
There are even coworking areas in Antigua ! Impact Hub for example, from 10$/day, 20Mbps down. We didn’t test it because our connection is pretty good, but it can be a good plan for digital nomads.
In any case, this mini-stay in Antigua made us want to come back to Guatemala and discover it longer. JB also wants to do the trek to see the volcano more closely. Maybe next year?
We found a bus to San Salvador. We return there because we already bought a plane ticket to Mexico. To find the agency that sold us these bus tickets, type Mayan Turismo on Google Maps. For 50$/person, we are entitled to a private shuttle at 3h30 to Guatemala City (the driver is too nice and waited with 30 minutes until the bus station opened). Then a Tica Bus to San Salvador. The agency stays in permanent contact with us on Whatsapp.
Part 2: Practical Tips
Guatemala remains more expensive than El Salvador, which is itself more expensive than Nicaragua 🙂
- Shuttle Concepcion de Ataco – Antigua: $35 (more info)
- Lodging: between $30 and $50 for a private room
- Withdrawal fees: very high for VISA cards, up to 5%. Exchange fees up to 15% for US dollars. It is better to change money at the border, or withdraw with a MASTERCARD
- Food: between 7€ and 12€ in tourist restaurants
- Hobbitenango: 70Gt/person including entry (50Gt) and return transport from Hobbitenango Oficina. Departure twice a day, but we recommend you to leave at 2:30 pm and return at 6 pm.
Hotels/Auberges overlooking the erupting Fuego volcano (without trekker)
To watch the volcano from the terrace, without having to trek, here are our best addresses:
- Chez Daniel lien Booking exceptional owners, French breakfast, view from the terrace and from the room, spacious rooms with hot shower, particularly suitable for families
- Airbnb : Airbnb internet link correct, huge work table. If this is the 1st time you use Airbnb, click here to get 25€ discount
- Earth Lodge link Booking: far from the city center, with a view similar to Hobbitenango, but this hotel is only accessible if you don’t have a suitcase, because a shuttle or a public bus will drop you off at the junction and then you have to walk 10 to 20 minutes on uneven ground. From 39€ the private room. Restaurant on site.
- Hobbitenango also offers Hobbit rooms in the 110$ : website Restaurant on site